LIHU‘E — Late last week, the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association filed two grievances against the statewide public school system over pandemic working conditions.
The union, which represents over 13,000 educators in the state, said in grievances filed last week against the Hawai‘i Department of Education that teachers have to work extra hours and are being forced to teach remotely while on sick leave.
“The increase of positive COVID-19 cases and employer’s failure to consistently implement health and safety guidelines have created an unsafe working environment for HSTA’s members,” the union said in its unsafe working condition grievance.
The grievance about COVID-19 testing says the HIDOE “directed all employees to be tested every week for COVID-19 or provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination by August 30, 2021, without impact bargaining over the implementation of this new directive. As a result of this new directive, employees who are unvaccinated have been required to undergo a medical examination to show that they are negative for COVID-19 at their own expense.”
The testing grievance charges HIDOE with violating 12 articles of HSTA’s collective bargaining agreement, including non-discrimination, association rights, and leaves.
Both grievances seek to require the employer to properly consult and meaningfully bargain with the union prior to the implementation of any directive, policy or mandate.
The COVID-19 testing grievance seeks additional remedies, including providing weekly COVID-19 tests for school employees for free and restoring employee compensation or leave lost or out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of the HIDOE’s testing mandate. HSTA maintains that provisions for the department to cover any time and expense for department-directed medical examinations are already addressed in the HIDOE’s School Code Regulation.
Hilo High School teacher Aaron Kubo said that during the first week of classes, there were 17 students out of the classroom who either contracted COVID-19 or had close contact with someone who got sick.
Social distancing isn’t realistic at his 90-year-old campus, he said.
HSTA President Osa Tui Jr. said teachers and school administrators have to do contact tracing themselves.
“A lot of times the administrators are just looking at a seating chart from a teacher and making a decision based on what they see on the seating chart as to who to quarantine,” Tui said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: The Garden Island